f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

March 19, 2006

even NYT scapegoats the billable hour

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 3:17 pm

It looks like New York Times reporter Timothy L. O’Brien has accepted
the widespread mantra that billable hour quotas are the main culprit keep-
ing young lawyers in firms from finding satisfactory life-work balance.  In an
article about the plight of female lawyers at top firms, O’Brien quotes Pros-
kauer Rose partner Bettina B. Plevan saying
“As long as firms are male-
dominated, it’s much less likely that firms will make changes to accept the
challenges of work-life balance.”   The article continues (New York Times,
2006) :
“ONE of the main bugaboos in this debate — and one that analysts
says is increasingly cropping up as an issue for male lawyers as well
— is the billable hours regime. Billing by the hour requires lawyers to
work on a stopwatch so their productivity can be tracked minute by
minute — and so clients can be charged accordingly.  . . .
The article then quotes Massachusetts lawyer Lauren Stiller Rikleen, author
of Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law: “I
see a lot of people who are distressed about where the profession has gone,”
Ms. Rikleen says. “They don’t like being part of a billable-hour production unit.
They want more meaning out of their lives than that.”
hangmanG Complaining about “the billable-hours regime” is like a condemned man complaining
about the executioner using a rope.  If they get rid of the rope, they will substitute
another means to secure his death.  It’s the death penalty that is the problem not
the rope.   As we said in the post chronomentrophobia:

From the perspective of the overworked associate or partner, there

is nothing wrong with the billable hour fee system that is not very

likely to be carried over to any alternative billing arrangements, if

the firm expects the shift to be made without reducing its income

or profits.  See: Patrick J. Schiltz, “Money and Ethics: the Young

Lawyer’s Conundrum” (Wash. State Bar Assn, Jan 2000); MyShingle,

Stop Whining, Start Asking (Jan 5, 2005); f/k/a: “Prof. Schiltz’s Ser-

mon as Required Reading (Sept. 27, 2003; fee fie foe and fum (Jan.

1, 2005).”
Let’s try to think this through:  Why do law firms have billable-hour quotas
for their associates?  Could it be so they will each generate a certain
amount of fees?  Doesn’t “We expect you to work X hours” sound much
more dignified than “We expect you to produce $YYY this years in legal
Life will not get more balanced for associates, female or male, if the
regime of billable hour quotas is discarded, unless it becomes perfectly
acceptable for the young lawyer to generate less income without it affecting
future partner status.  Indeed, if not, and the firm management still expects
each lawyer to produce the same amount of billed income, it might get even
more stressful — the associate won’t know how to keep score; won’t know
if he or she is keeping pace for the year.  That might be especially true if
fee contracts with clients are based on some post-completion assessment
of the “value” or the performance to the client.

Maybe O’Brien, in fact, understands this and purposely used the word
bugaboo.”  After all, it’s usual meaning is “An object of obsessive, usually
exaggerated fear or anxiety” (American Heritage Dictionary, 2000)  Right
after mentioning the billable hour regime, the article get to the crux of
the problem:
“Over the last two decades, as law firms have devoted themselves
more keenly to the bottom line, depression and dissatisfaction
rates among both female and male lawyers has grown, analysts
say; many lawyers of both genders have found their schedules
and the nature of their work to be dispiriting.”
tiny check As for the main theme of the article, see our post from January 26,
therefore choose more life-affirming options that are less likely
to lead to a partner’s chair or share].
update (March 20, 2006): Carolyn Elefant makes lots of good sense
in her response to the NYT article:
“I know it’s not PC to say so, but ultimately, the problem
with large firms is that everyone, male and female, is held
to an equal standard:  generate more billables, bring in more
revenue.  It’s an inhumane standard, sure, but it’s gender
neutral.  The real success stories aren’t the women who
continue to whine for accommodations at large firms that aren’t
available to men, but rather, the women who go out and create
their own firms so that they can have the best of both worlds,
on their own terms.”     [Now, if only more men would do it,
and spend more time with their kids!]
So, does Timothy Hadley at math class for poets — and I hope he
keeps his promise to tell us more.  Meanwhile, Bob Ambrogi has
some links and quotes at Inside Opinions.
gate’s cherry tree
all this flit-flit flitting
is work!
surprising the worker
in the field…
out-of-season blooms
the dragonfly, too
works late…
night fishing
siesta work
for the stepchild…
picking brother’s fleas
rich and poor
have fallen down drunk…
blossom shade
the moonflowers
strike it rich!
the stars
translated by David G. Lanoue
“moneyBag sm”

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